What is Brass? – Its Properties, Types, and Uses

What is Brass?

Brass is a non-ferrous red metal made mostly of copper and zinc. Different amounts of copper and zinc can achieve various mechanical and electrical qualities. The amounts of copper and zinc are adjusted to produce a variety of brasses.

Modern brass is composed of 67 percent copper and 33 percent zinc. Copper concentrations can range from 55 percent to 95 percent by weight, with zinc concentrations ranging from 5 percent to 45 percent. 

Brass is a substitution alloy because it comprises atoms of the two main elements that can replace each other inside the same crystalline structure. Lead is frequently added to the brass at roughly 2%. The addition of lead to brass improves its machinability

Even in brass with a relatively low overall content of lead, considerable lead leaching occurs frequently. Musical instruments, weapon cartridge casings, radiators, architectural trim, pipes and tubing, screws, and decorative items are all made of brass.

brass

History of Brass

Brass was first used in China around the 5th century BC. The brass artifacts discovered have a zinc content of only 5% to 15%, indicating that they were manufactured from “natural alloys” and may have been made accidentally.

These metals were most likely smelted from a copper ore high in zinc, resulting in an accidental brass-like metal. However, certain relics are known to have been made with the golden color associated with brass.

In the third century BC, additional copper-zinc alloys appeared in the Middle East and Asia. The United Arab Emirates, West India, Uzbekistan, Iran, Syria, and Iraq have all discovered brass from this period. Brass was used throughout the world, from Britain and Spain to India, thanks to trade with the Middle East.

By the 1st century BC, archaeologists had unearthed evidence that the Greeks and Romans produced brass alloy. The Romans used cementation to make calamine brass by heating copper and calamine, a zinc-rich mineral, combined with copper to produce a brass alloy. The Romans utilized brass to create coins and other items.

Turkey soon followed the Romans’ lead in metal manufacture and began producing its coinage. Brass began to expand throughout the Roman Empire and into Northern Europe. Brass was considered a precious metal before silver and gold became available in North and South America, and it was utilized for aesthetic purposes in churches and tombs.

In the first century BC, brass began to arrive in India. Unlike Roman calamine brass, Indian brass was made using speltering rather than cementation. Speltering allows brass producers to change the brass’s zinc concentration and hence the brass’s characteristics.

The number of uses for brass increased after the Industrial Revolution. Brass buttons on military uniforms became increasingly fashionable in America, and the demand for brass lamps and clockwork increased.

Manufacturing Process of Brass

1. Melting

In this first process, the copper alloy is melted in an electric furnace at 1,050°C. After melting the copper, the copper alloy is given the required proportion of zinc. A tiny amount of extra zinc is sometimes added to the copper alloy to compensate for zinc evaporation during the melting process. The molten metal is then placed into the cuboidal framework and allowed to cool before solidifying into slabs.

2. Hot Rolling

These cakes are then placed in a furnace and heated until they reach the desired temperature. The brass thickness is then reduced by bypassing these hotcakes over an opposing steel roller. The width of the brass is also enhanced during this operation.

The brass is then chilled before being fed through a milling machine known as a scalper. This machine also eliminates the brass’s very thin exterior coating, made up of oxides that form when the metal is exposed to the air.

3. Annealing and Cold Rolling

It becomes increasingly difficult to work with brass when it is hot rolled. It also loses flexibility or the ability to stretch. The brass must be heated first to relieve some of its hardness and make it more malleable before it can be rolled further. Annealing is the term for this process. Depending on the brass composition and required qualities, annealing temperatures and timeframes vary.  

Larger hot-rolled brass pieces can be annealed together in a batch in a sealed furnace. Smaller items can be fed continuously through a furnace with airtight seals at both ends using a metal belt conveyor.

The furnace is filled with a neutral gas like nitrogen for either procedure to prevent the brass from reacting with oxygen and forming undesirable oxides on the surface.

The annealed brass pieces are pushed through another roller to reduce their thickness to around 0.1 in (2.5 mm). Because the temperature of the brass is significantly lower than it is during hot rolling, this method is called cold rolling. Cold rolling increases the strength and hardness of brass by deforming its internal structure or grain. 

The material becomes stronger and tougher when the thickness is reduced. For brass sheets of uniform thickness, cold-rolling mills are designed to minimize deflection over the width of the rollers. In certain plants, the pieces of brass are welded together into one long, continuous sheet and sent through a vertical zigzag pattern of annealing furnaces and rolling mills.

4. Finish rolling

The sheets are subjected to a final cold rolling process, which tightens tolerances and gives the brass a flawless surface finish. These sheets are subsequently cut into the necessary size depending on the necessity.

Types of Brasses

The crystal structures of different varieties of brasses are the most important distinction. Three different types of brasses are as follows:

1. Alpha Brasses

Alpha brasses are named after their homogeneous (alpha) crystal structure, formed when less than 37 percent of zinc is fused into copper. As zinc dissolves into copper, an alpha crystal structure forms, resulting in a solid solution of homogenous composition. Because these brasses are softer and more malleable than their equivalents, they can be cold worked, welded, rolled, pulled, bent, or brazed with more ease.

The most prevalent variety of alpha brass is made up of 30% zinc and 70% copper. This brass alloy, often known as 70/30 brass or ‘cartridge brass,’ has the optimal strength and flexibility for cold drawing. It also has a higher corrosion resistance than brass, with a higher zinc content. Fasteners, such as wood screws and spring contacts in electrical sockets are made with alpha alloys.

2. Alpha-Beta Brasses

Alpha-beta brasses, also known as ‘duplex brasses’ or ‘hot-working brasses,’ have a zinc content of 37-45% and are made up of both the alpha and beta grain structures. Brass in the beta phase is more atomically comparable to pure zinc.

Zinc content determines the ratio of alpha phase to beta phase brass. However, alloy components such as aluminum, silicon, or tin can also enhance the quantity of beta phase brass in the alloy.

Alpha-beta brass is more common than alpha brass, but it is harder and stronger and has less cold ductility. Because of the increased zinc content, alpha-beta brass is less expensive, but it is more prone to dezincification corrosion.

While alpha-beta brasses are less workable at ambient temperature than alpha brasses, they are much more workable at high temperatures. These brasses are resistant to cracking even when a lead is present to increase machinability. As a result, extrusion, stamping, and die-casting are the most common hot working alpha-beta brass methods.

3. Beta Brasses

Beta brasses are the third type of brass alloy that contains more than 45 percent zinc. They are far less common than alpha or alpha-beta brasses. These brasses have a beta crystal structure and are tougher and stronger than alpha and alpha-beta brasses.

They can only be hot wrought or cast as a result. Identifying brass alloys by their characteristics, as opposed to crystal structure categorization, allows us to analyze the effect of alloying metals on brass.

Common beta brasses are free-machining brass, high tensile brasses, naval brasses, dezincification resistant brasses, brass for cold working, and Casting brass. Red brass comes with a high copper (85 percent) alloy that contains tin (Cu-Zn-Sn), which is also known as gunmetal, and yellow brass comes from a brass alloy with a greater zinc content (33 percent zinc).

Properties of Brass

The amount of copper and zinc in brass determines its properties. Other metals such as tin, aluminum, lead, and nickel are frequently added to improve the qualities of brass. Following are some properties of brass:

  • Brass is commonly bright gold, but it can also be reddish-gold or silvery-white. More copper gives the alloy a rose tone, while more zinc gives it a silvery appearance.
  • Brass has a low melting point, between 9000 0C and 9400 0C.
  • Brass is a non-magnetic metal and desirable metal for electrical and electronic equipment due to its non-magnetic nature. It is simple to separate from scrap.
  • Brass is a naturally antibacterial metal and does not support pathogens (bacteria or other microbes). As a result, it is suggested for faucets and doorknobs.
  • Brass is malleable. It does not break when drawn or stretched into tiny wires. When metal is pulled into wires, it experiences tensile pull. It has higher elasticity than copper and zinc.
  • Brass is anti-corrosive, and the high content of copper forms a protective layer surrounding the metal and protects it against corrosion.
  • Brass has acoustic properties that make it ideal for musical instruments.
  • The surface of the brass metal is resistant to wear. It also has a strong resistance to friction.
  • Brass is a good heat and electricity conductor, and it permits the passage of heat and electricity. Electric cables have brass strands that conduct electricity.

Uses of Brass

  • Brass is a desirable architectural alloy because of its inherent durability and corrosion resistance. Architectural fascias trims and hedges are frequently employed. Certain brass alloys have also been employed to aid in the restoration or refurbishment of historical structures worldwide.
  • Brass has low friction in settings where metal-on-metal contact is required, which is why it is frequently used in mechanical components. Machines are common in brass gears, locomotive axle boxes, marine engines, etc. Due to their extraordinary longevity, brass hand tools (hammers, flat knives, etc.) are also highly coveted.
  • Brass is frequently employed as a component of two of your home’s most general plumbing and electrical systems. Various components of electrical sockets and switches are made of brass alloys. Brass is commonly used in plumbing applications such as valves and pipe fittings such as elbows, plugs, and couplings.
  • Brass has traditionally been used to make a variety of musical instruments. Brass is utilized to produce trumpets, french horns, trombones, and tubas worldwide. Brass components will be used in the interior of electric instruments such as electric guitars and electric violins.

Conclusion

Brass consists of a group of copper-zinc alloys that may also contain other metals such as lead. Brass has a variety of qualities, but all of them are robust, machinable, tough, conductive, and corrosion-resistant. Brass is one of the most extensively utilized alloys due to its beauty and ease of production.

References:

  1. How brass is made – material, history, used, dimensions, composition, structure, steps, product, industry. (2012, June 12). How Brass Is Made – Material, History, Used, Dimensions, Composition, Structure, Steps, Product, Industry; www.madehow.com. http://www.madehow.com/Volume-6/Brass.html#:~:text=It%20wasn’t%20until%201746,firearms%20were%20introduced%20in%201852.
  2. Learn About the Properties, History, and Uses of Brass Metal. (2020, March 2). ThoughtCo; www.thoughtco.com. https://www.thoughtco.com/metal-profile-brass-2340129
  3. Common Uses for Brass. (n.d.). Mead Metals, Inc.; www.meadmetals.com. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://www.meadmetals.com/blog/common-uses-for-brass
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